Moment by Moment…

Apple Crostata for my birthday treat

Birthday number sixty-two came and went a few days ago.  Today, As my feet hit the floor my knees were annoyingly effective in reminding me of my thirty or so years of running.  The snap and crackle sound of my joints continued as I moved downstairs to the kitchen. Geez. I thought. I’d never be able to stealth my way into anywhere with these knees; I would be heard from a mile away!   Before the ritual of morning coffee, I give my achy knees a gentle rub to warm them up and as I did so vowed to move with as much grace as possible through year sixty-three, arthritic knees and such be damned!

What a blessing it was to celebrate another year around the sun with sis and company.  The day was lovely, albeit unseasonably warm, and it was capped off by a divinely delicious dinner prepared by sis. On the menu that night was a first for me: 40-clove garlic chicken. How is it possible that in all these years I’d never enjoyed such a delight to the taste buds? 

Time is flying.  Be open to new things, came the whisper…

Each year that passes now reels me into a “deepening” of sorts….ever longer moments in a quieter space filled with moments of brutal self-reflection, sadness for what was and what wasn’t, but also joy for heart-warming memories and moments of complete fulfillment. There are many more moments in a day that I realize that there is far less time ahead of me. The sound of the clock ticking as each minute passes grows louder, almost thunderous. Some days I handle this preoccupation exceedingly well, at least I’d like to think I do. Others, well…not so much. For example, my husband will say or do some thing–silly, in the scheme of it all–that makes my head pop in purple minion fashion. It’s been twenty-plus years of this same song I’ll mutter under my breath enough times that in a flash of Italian anger I’ll tell him that I don’t want to spend one more minute of my precious golden years with that tired old slide guitar-of-a-song clamoring in the background…

..if you get my drift.

Thankfully, I catch myself quickly now. Perhaps its simply due to age–the mellowing of every fiber of my being, or my new milestone…369 consecutive days of a meditation practice. In the midst of an angst-filled moment, with a long, slow inhale and exhale– a wave of crystal clear awareness will smack me between the eyes and with it comes the wisdom from a thousand sages before me: this moment is all that there is…so stop projecting Missy that you’ll be dealing with silly husband sh**t in the years ahead.

Let.It.Go.

I’m working harder still on childhood baggage and forgiving those who knew not what they were doing, as well as those who did. The journey is not for the faint of heart. But, while the clock ticks on, moment by moment, I am cheerfully optimistic that this whole “grace in aging” thing keeps its firm hold on me until my last breath. Slowly but surely, “Awakening” more as the years tick by…

and yes, there is bliss in that.

An excerpt from “Blessing in the Chaos” by Jan Richardson seems appropriate in the moment….

Let what distracts you cease.

Let what divides you cease.

Let there come an end to what diminishes and demeans.

And let depart all that keeps you in its cage.

A burst of color on my morning walk with The Poodle

Between Bliss and Doom

Photo by Bryan Goff on Unsplash

“I’ve got an interesting article to share with you,” I told my nephew some days ago while on the way to Five Guys for burgers. We were lucky to have him for a spell while his parents attended Back to School Night.

“Okay, what’s it about?” was his cheery reply.

“It’s about the day the dinosaurs died,” I replied. “Let’s read it together after burgers.”

I’ll admit I was a bit reticent about sharing the article with him.  He is not quite twelve and though he has experienced two grandparents passing within three years he’s sweet and sensitive as can be. I certainly didn’t want to cause nightmares.   And, when I thought about it for a moment longer I realized too it was because of my fear…specifically the whole gloom and doom thing.   I had read the article just hours before over morning coffee.  Geez-louise! We could get hit by a similar catastrophe, very much like the one that catapulted the earth into the ice-age. 

Note to self: Stop reading stuff like that before the roosters are up and crowing!  

Later after stuffing ourselves silly on those fabulous Five Guys fries, we convened on the back deck.  As promised, I read parts of a Wall Street Journal article aloud to my nephew sharing the new evidence uncovered about the massive asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago. You can (hopefully) view it here:  https://www.wsj.com/articles/scientists-discover-new-evidence-of-the-asteroid-that-killed-off-the-dinosaurs-11568055601?shareToken=staf6b086021d7498d8b13372021f0e7b1

He was enthralled of course and even shared some tidbits on geology and sedimentary rock which impressed the snot out of us. After our nephew left, I stayed out on the screened-in porch for quite some time. As I cradled my glass of wine in the quiet of the evening I realized I was becoming lost in a thought pattern of gloom. I should not have read the article…things like that really get to me. Which is why I do not watch horror and shoot-em-up movies. Doris Day and Rock Hudson…now that is my happy place!

When hubby joined me I again I brought up the topic of asteroid doom…but not before asking for more wine.

“You want another glass?’ he asked with a look of feigned concern.

Full disclosure, I wanted the entire bottle of wine.

(fear not dear reader. I was a good girl.)

“Well, why not? No time like the present. After all, we could get hit by a massive asteroid before the next sunrise.”

“Ah,” he said. “I see where this is going.”

So, in a professorial manner he tried his best to convince me that asteroid doom was quite unlikely to happen imminently and furthermore we would know of an asteroid hurling in our direction years in advance of causing a cataclysmic event. .

Well, that’s reassuring…..

For those of you who watched the hilarious show Bing Bang Theory, perhaps you’ve guessed by now kind reader that I am the “Penny” to this “Sheldon/Leonard” husband of mine. So I ask: But what would we do? Would we like…um… shoot the thing down?

Sheldon/Leonard: Actually what we would do is deflect it while it is still in space. The object would be to knock it off course….get it into another orbit…so that it misses Earth.”

My Sheldon/Leonard guy said a lot of other stuff but honestly my eyes began glazing over pretty darned quickly. Sadly, I cannot blame it on the wine.

Still, I couldn’t shake the asteroid doom. It made me think once again about the impermanence of everything…the fragile nature of our lives and every little thing we know, love or care a wit about. So many of my problems are First World. Why bother getting attached to anything…good or bad? Why agonize, for example, about what to get my daughter for Christmas or that my son is still a mess? Why be in such a hurry to bag autumn leaves that are already piling high on my front porch just to make everything neat and pretty… or even continue another debate with hubby on whether we spring for yet another year of expensive pet insurance for our aging poodle.

My ruminating went on and on with the voices getting louder and louder. In meditation circles–or more precisely, Buddhism– it’s called the “monkey mind.” It’s our minds filled with endless chatter: negative, positive it matters not. It can be a hundred monkeys all vying for your attention and before you know it you’re a whirling dervish of thoughts and emotions. It’s my mind, caught between bliss and doom and everything in between. It can be exhausting….at the very least.

Before I knew it tears are streaming down my face. Oh I must stop this pity party I think as I move to get up. Pain seared through both knees as I shifted my legs off the chair in front of me. As I rub my little “gargoyles” (bone spurs) that have somewhat disfigured my arthritic knees I am keenly aware that my knee issues and host of other things are nothing compared to the challenges others face. Like my dearest friend who is battling a rare cancer and another who struggles with depression or a friend’s husband undergoing heart surgery. There is a whole world out there that seems upside-down; it often seems dark, chaotic and in a turmoil that borders on insanity to me.

Wowza. Is there a full moon or something? Just yesterday I was basking in the glow of a perfect workout, happy as a clam with a new read…. and ready for all the blessings of autumn…

Clearly I need to guzzle a boatload of chamomile and get out of this negative bubble…not to mention glue myself onto the meditation pillow .

I managed a decent sleep in spite of too much Cabernet. By morning I was back to feeling a bit more chipper. Still, as I walked down into the woods with The Poodle I could feel a slight edge. He wanted to stop and mark EVERY. SINGLE. TREE that lined the heavily wooded path.

Come on boy…get a move on,” I huffed impatiently as I pulled on his lead. I’ve no idea why I was in such a hurry; it’s not like I had places to be and important things to do.

And then, just as I was about to yank on the lead yet again I stopped dead in my tracks. The sight before me was mesmerizing. It gave me such pause that I stopped for several minutes. The Poodle stood patiently beside me as my breath became quiet. I could actually feel my heart expand in joy. I was instantly lighter, as if the weight of my sixty plus years had been lifted….

and all because of a dancing leaf, held well above the path by a whisper of a spider’s web.

The monkey mind is much quieter and that’s Bliss a hundred-fold.

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No White Flags…yet

I tried–and was unsuccessful– to get some Headspace before coffee this morning. Note to self: Some habits are too entrenched. Coffee first, before all else; it is how my day must begin.

So then I try again.

I’ve got my favorite shawl–a lovely teal one– around my shoulders against the chill of first light.  I’m not, as customary, on my little red pillow, but rather in the kitchen, in a chair. Sitting with legs crossed is not an option this morning. My knees are swollen, more than usual –the residual effect from a workout days ago I’m afraid.

I sit with eyes closed, focusing on my breath. The guided meditation instructs me to bring, for a moment, an awareness of the sounds around me.

Ah, that is not difficult!   This new old house seems to emit groans of all sorts–like laborious sighs of lament– too many in fact, that invade the quiet of the early morning. How I would like to be enveloped in noiselessness (is that even possible?), especially as I struggle with this morning’s Headspace meditation. I’d prefer to be able to hear a feather drop to the floor and not the thunderous whooshing sound of the HVAC system, nor it’s clinks and clanks as it cycles on and off. The wood floors too seem to constantly talk–like my perennially aching knees– in the dry winter air. Could it be they are saying: We are in much need of a good sanding and refinishing!  Ironically, true for both wood floors and my knees!

Even the subtle hum of the refrigerator seems to annoy me this morning. What is up with that?

Back to the breath…..

I manage to stick with it and when done twenty minutes later I open my eyes to see that the sun has made its way into the kitchen.  For a moment I am buoyed by the cheerful ray of sunlight through the patio door.  I smile as I look at The Poodle curled up in his bed.  As I head for my second cup of java for the morning  I’m thinking about what I should accomplish before the day is up: finish up Italian homework, the never-ending laundry, errands out and about, and there’s that book that I’m trying to get through….

I hear the shower start in the basement.  A sigh heavier than a thousand sighs combined pours out of me.  My man-child, still living in our basement, stirs.  He has a boatload of troubles and cannot, even with the help of family, seem to get this head together.

A quote I read recently online by B.D. Schiers, comes to mind: “If you want to change the world, start with the next person who comes to you in need.”  I cannot seem to find any information on this person but If I met him or her I’d ask: “Um…what made you come to that stroke of wisdom…and how did it work out for you?”

Ah, it bubbles up again.  The past. Feelings of helplessness and utter failure.  And therein lies the source of my angst and agitation on this particular morning.

I know it is a tired cliché, but I want to throw in the towel and be done…or at least, wave the white flag in surrender.  Once again, I seem to be failing miserably in getting through to my man-child.

Yet there is still a kernel of hope deep within me.  Don’t all mothers feel this way?

It is a new day. Do not focus on the many miles ahead. It’s what I do today that matters most according to The Buddha.

So, as I’ve done countless days before this one….let’s try one more time, shall we?

No white flags, yet.  Never give up.

Instant Swoon Easy

I’m standing in the doorway of our bedroom as I say the words. My heart is content, peaceful, as I gaze with loving affection at my Rocket-man.

He is oblivious to my presence. He’s in bed, comfy-cozy in his flannel, catching-up on whatever on his iPhone before it’s lights out.

“I’m in love with another man,” I say.

“Uh, huh,” was his reply as he tapped away on this iPhone.
“His name is Andy.”

That got his attention.

Rocket-man looks up at me. “Andy?”

“I love his voice. It’s soothing. He knows just how to make me relax.”

“Andy who?” he asks again.

Did I detect a scintilla of concern? Nah. He knows me!  Like the time I was head-over-heals for Stanley Tucci. For weeks on end Rocket-man endured my adoration of the Big Night (and more) actor.  I even bought his cookbook simply because of the cover photo–Stanley standing next to his outdoor pizza oven.  Be still my beating heart.

“Andy. The HEADSPACE guy,” I reply with a sly grin.

“A HA!”

“Besides, you know me dear. I have a profound weakness for guys with an accent. It could be Tom, Dick, or Harry tomorrow you know. Or rather… Tomaso, Ricardo…..you get my drift.”

Yep. If a guy has an Australian, British, Italian or Spanish accent, instant swoon. I’m easy that way.

Rocket-man smiles. “Guess I’d better get busy with Italian lessons my love.”

So it’s day seven of HEADSPACE meditation. Seven days in a row! That is epic for this here messy head-space. Ten minutes with Andy and his accent has me feeling pretty good about handling stress. That is, until my man-child in the basement decides Ravioli in a can is better than mom’s cooking.

Thank goodness for my Dammit Doll. Three good WHACKS on the kitchen counter (with an expletive thrown in for good measure) gets me through the purple minion moment. 

Hmm.  A thought occurs: I might need to go for eleven minutes with Andy today.

It’s a journey.

It’s Up To My Head

If this elephant of mind is bound on all sides by the cord of mindfulness,
All fear disappears and complete happiness comes.
All enemies: all the tigers, lions, elephants, bears, serpents [our wild and uncontrolled emotions];
All the keepers of hell; the demons and the horrors,
All of these are bound by the mastery of your mind.
And by the taming of that one mind, all are subdued.
Because from the mind are derived all fears and immeasurable sorrows.

Eight-century Buddhist master Shantideva, as quoted in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche

My head-space has been in a less than joyful mood for some time. I’m cynical beyond words that complete happiness is within my grasp let alone anyone’s.  I force snippets of laughter and silliness into my days in an effort to create bliss out of thin air. It’s probably the way it is for most folks and truthfully, it’s not a bad thing. I’m not knocking it one bit; any way one can get a modicum of bliss in a day is better than finding absolutely none.

Still, the difficulties of this past year are not quite what I expected following our move out of middle-earth. I realize joy is entirely within my hands and my hands alone but for heaven’s sake, I’m thoroughly annoyed that drama-filled days still seem to define my life! Harrumph.

I honestly believed those days were behind me with the passing of my mother (may she rest in peace). God seems to have other plans for me. I suppose the intent of it all falls under the umbrella of that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

So, in an effort to get control of this messy head-space of mine I’ve turned to just that: HEADSPACE.

HEADSPACE

That would be the meditation app that claims to have over six million people using the app just last year. In the App store it has over fifty-eight thousand resounding thumbs up.

I first heard mention of this meditation and mindfulness training app last year (or so) in the Wall Street Journal. I barely gave it a passing notice since I was trying to go the do-it-on-my-own route, and because (the actual reason) after the first 10 free days, it’s an expensive subscription. Meditation has been a difficult practice for me to wrap my head around. I tried to start in earnest two years ago when life was inordinately stressful due to the challenges with mom. I managed to get myself up to a solid five minutes on most days of the week before fidgeting began. Everything went on the back burner, including yoga, for a plethora of reasons excuses.

So here I am today. With the return of my son, now flat-broke and living in my basement (for a spell), I am teetering on the edge of a balance beam, every fiber of my being shaking as I threaten to topple over. I used to be able to handle life stressors when I was a long-distance runner. There is nothing like a trail run on a crisp autumn day to melt one’s cares away…..

Sigh. Cannot do that anymore.

So, plan B (or is it plan D about now?)…

Get a teensy-weensy bit more serious about a meditation practice…but this time with a little help from the digital world.

The genius behind HEADSPACE, Andy Puddicombe and his business partner Rich Pierson, just may be the ticket to more joy in these stressful days.  Andy’s soothing UK voice has lulled me out of anxiousness for three days straight.  I’m back up to five minutes of guided meditation and hopeful for ten before my free trial is up.  At this writing, I’m contemplating jumping in with both feet into a year-long subscription.  Still dealing with the stress of a second mortgage, I’ll even cut back on my Starbucks indulgence in order to fund the taming of my head-space.

Ahead of the holidays, there is hope indeed for more joy-filled moments.

It’s all in my hands…and up to my head.

Fifteen Minutes!

I’ve done it five times since last Thursday.

And for more than five minutes!

Folks….that’s huge for me.

And no…It’s not what you’re thinking, although I’m sure Rocket-man would have liked it to be!

I’m an early riser which is curious since I’m often a tossing, turning, and wide-awake wreck on most nights. I envy Rocket-man who sleeps like a rock; he’s gone within two blinks of an eye when his head hits the pillow.  So, last Thursday morning (at precisely 4:30) I was at the kitchen sink getting ready to prepare my morning espresso.  I’m moving through quicksand with one eye open, literally as I reach for the can of espresso coffee from the cupboard. Rocket-man is dead to the world and so is The Poodle.  Truthfully, this is how I like it in the morning. Absolutely quiet. No T.V. news delivering doomsday headlines…no expectations to throw the squeaky ball from The Poodle. Just sweet nothingness…quiet.  A thought struck me as I reached for the espresso pot: You should try to meditate…now is the perfect time.  meditation

I’ve been struggling with this whole meditation thing for quite some time. God knows I needed a solid practice last year with all that I went through in Arizona but I couldn’t seem to make it work for me. Every day there seemed to be one catastrophe or another to deal with. I reasoned that my long walks in the Arizona desert were enough to manage my stress levels…or, once home, that punching a bag at my favorite workout studio SWEAT, would release the pounds of frustration, anger and sadness I was carrying around. And while those outlets, and others, were helpful, I felt that something was still missing in my attempt to handle the stressors—both physical and emotional—in my life.

And now, with the winds of change in the air bringing more stress with it, I know it’s now or never.  So…in that moment I made a change to my early morning routine.

I put the pot down, picked up my iPhone, and made for the sofa. Wrapping a blanket around me, I situated myself on the sofa, trying to get as comfortable as possible. My knees won’t allow for a true lotus position (and quite frankly, it is not necessary to the practice) so I simply sat cross-legged. I pulled up the clock function on my phone and set the countdown timer for fifteen minutes.

FIFTEEN MINUTES…are you nuts?, screamed a voice on my left shoulder. That’s very ambitious missy considering you‘ve yet to make it past five minutes. You’ll never make it!

The journey begins with a single step, reminded the little voice on my right shoulder.

I closed my eyes and began focusing on my breath. Inhaling…exhaling.  I notice my breath is very choppy at first. How could this be? The chickens aren’t even up yet at this hour! I’ve just rolled out of bed literally minutes ago and there isn’t a drop of caffeine in me; truly, my day has not even started!  I couldn’t seem to slow my breath down nor bring any sort of rhythm to it. Negative thoughts immediately flooded the space between breaths.

NO. Not this time. I’m going to see this through. No judgements…just let it go…let it go.
Now…back to the breath.

Breathe in…breathe out. Breathe in…breathe out.

And so it began.

It took a few minutes but eventually my breathing evened out. My breath became much less shallower. With each inhalation and exhalation I was able to bring a fullness to each breath; It became deeper and slower. Slow inhalations followed by even slower exhalations. Each time a thought floated into my head space—and there were many—I’d accept it without admonishment and then I’d gently let it go. Back to the breath, said the little voice followed by my impromptu mantra: I breathe in…I breathe out.

…..until the dainty ringtone sounded on my phone, signaling the end of the session.

Fifteen minutes. Wow.

I opened my eyes. I didn’t move for a moment or two. I broke out into a smile.

Did I reach some altered state? Did I have some brilliant stroke of insight that would change my world or that of another?

Nope.

But I did feel serenely calm and light as a feather as if the burdens in my world had vanished into thin air. For fifteen minutes (well, make that thirteen because it took a few minutes to find my rhythm) I was absolutely free from a near constant rumination of negativity. Oh the bliss I felt in that!

Since Thursday, I’ve committed myself to four other early morning sessions on the sofa. Yesterday, fueled by a heightened sense of accomplishment, I increased the time by two minutes confident that I was becoming really good at this meditation practice. I was served a plate of humble pie however. I became quite fidgety and couldn’t shake it…my mind wandering all over the place like an action-packed movie. I’ll confess to a peek at my phone to determine the time left. With a sigh I noted that I still had another five minutes to go! So, I ended the session early. This was not giving up by any means! What I did learn from this “imperfect” session was that I was able end it without beating myself up —something I would have assuredly done a week ago.

Just like life, some days will be easier than others. It’s part of the journey. If only for a day…I am very excited about this new morning routine.  I’m not sure where it will take me but that’s Okay.  If it gets me through the roller coaster of life with more grace, compassion, and acceptance, I’ll be enormously grateful.

Breathe in…breathe out….. IMG_3577

Two Minutes and Counting….

It’s been 97 degrees for the better part of a week now.  Along with the high temps of course, there is humidity.  This is the south after all.  So it’s been mighty  hot and steamy…unbearably stifling.  I shouldn’t complain.  When I moved to “middle-earth” (three years ago today to be exact) it was 105 degrees for two weeks straight.  I thought that Rocket-man had taken me to hell.   I’ve gotten over it….for the most part.  Rocket-man is in Arizona this week attending an executive course.  According to his Clear Day weather app It was 113 degrees in Phoenix yesterday.  I texted him back with one word: perfect.  Yes.  That is hotter-than-hell-hot, but as you all know, it’s a dry heat.  Trust me on this. It’s easier to tolerate dry heat than hot and moist air.

It was almost 9 p.m. a couple of nights ago when I stepped off the front porch step ready to take The Poodle for his last business of the day. Rocket-man usually pulls this night duty.   I walked The Poodle up the street for half a block and thought for a nano-second of going around the block to get in extra steps.  I had quickly squashed the idea;  It was still ridiculously hot even at that time of night.  The air was heavy and stagnant, devoid of even a whisper of a breeze.  It was eerily quiet in the neighborhood; not even a dog barking in the distance.  Inexplicably, that made me nervous.  I felt like I was suffocating under the weight of a load of wet wool blankets so I turned back towards the house.  The Poodle moved slowly as well…as if through quick sand.  I’d almost say that it was from his play day at doggie day care but I think he’s just as beat from the heat as I am.

I loathe this kind of weather.  The heat and humidity drains every ounce of energy from my being…not to mention the fact that it makes it very difficult to do anything outdoors, which affects my soul. I’d prefer that dry Arizona heat.  There, I routinely power-walked five miles every morning, even with the sun beating down upon me by late morning.  The weather rarely stopped me from being outside.  There was a time we thought of retiring somewhere in Arizona…that’s how much I love the desert.  I’m not sure that is going to happen now. My head is in a different place, at least as of today.  Unfortunately, a turn of events has managed to poison that dream.  Simply put,  at this writing there has just been too much stupid drama in Arizona to consider that a peaceful place to return to, let alone live without the constant reminder of all that was lost there.   Perhaps that will change (Indeed, I’d like it to.).  The passage of time manages to heal many things so I’m going to remain hopeful.

I’m turning to Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn to help navigate through this difficult period.  It’s a big book to get through.  It’s premise is that we can manage “catastrophe…the poignant enormity of our life experience” through mindfulness-based stress reduction. So far, he’s making the case for a meditation practice.  I get it.  I really do.  A consistent mediation practice has real health benefits and there is growing scientific evidence to back this up.  But it’s going to take some concerted effort for me to get past my current two-minute mark!

The Buddha

The Buddha

So, I’m trying to find a kernel of gratitude in this God-awful suffocating…smothering weather.  I find that on this day (Father’s Day) I have to dig a little deeper than usual.  It’s Okay. Some days are just like that, but fortunately those days are rare.  There are folks battling much graver life catastrophes than I.  I think of those two young kids that lost limbs in the recent shark attack…or the people in Texas sill reeling from the devastation of  flooding….and the South Carolina community where a lunatic took the lives of nine people in a church.   No one is immune from a life without a certain amount of angst, suffering and loss; inexplicably, some folks experience more darkness and evil than others.  Why? Why? Why?…. always comes to mind.  The “full catastrophe of living” favors every color and gender…and terrible things happen to people throughout the whole socioeconomic spectrum.

In the early pages of Full Catastrophe Living, (in the introduction to be exact) the book offers the challenge to live life as if each moment was important…as if each moment counted…even if (and especially when) the moment entails pain, sadness, anger or fear.  I’m not certain exactly how a disciplined cultivation of mindfulness, particularly when in physical or emotional pain, will really help anyone that is deeply depressed or in great physical pain but in an effort to learn and manage my stress I’m more than willing to give it a go.   I’ve got a lot of work to do to get past the two-minute mark, but like yoga, this meditation thing is a practice.  I’ve got to get better at consistency with both…one moment at a time, I’ll see my way through it.  I must.

After all, I am the captain of my ship and its up to me to navigate through the sea of all that is good, bad, and ugly…the full catastrophe of daily life.